This week, I started to get into a serious summer schedule at the farm. Now that school is out for summer, Dave welcomes me coming to work earlier (since he doesn’t have to take his son to school in the morning) and staying as long as need be to get the work done. That meant that on Monday I put in a seven-hour day, and Tuesday stretched to eight hours.
If you wonder how I held up, I’m pleased to say that despite minor injuries and regular aches, I did very well. But then, we had an exciting week.
Room for more tomatoes, but not for ours
We still had tomatoes left after I planted the last patch last week, and we still had the lower third of one bed open for tomatoes. But these wouldn’t be ours. Instead, Dave had agreed to be part of a tomato-grafting trial this season, research being done at the OARDC here in town, and he left this section open for the Cherokee Purple tomato seedlings that the researcher would bring.
Grafted and ungrafted Cherokee Purple seedlings from the research station
On Tuesday, Michelle showed up with a flat of 40 Cherokee Purples — 10 ungrafted, with the rest grafted onto three different strains of hardy rootstock. The goal of the research is to find out whether this grafting process for tomatoes provides enough disease resistance and general hardiness to make the time-consuming grafting worthwhile.
Can you imagine grafting something this small?
See, on fruit trees and other perennials, grafting makes sense because you’re investing a comparatively small amount of time on plants that will be around for decades. But tomatoes, an annual crop, with such small stems and thus more delicate grafts? Well, apparently the technique has met with success in Japan, Michelle notes, but these are early days for the method here in the States.
Note the graft (the "V") well above the soil and even the mulch
Michelle gladly answered our questions and shared ideas as well as her own questions about the farm — she’s enthusiastic about the farms she’s visiting for this project. We talked while Dave’s daughter and I planted the seedlings (Michelle laid out the seedlings the way she wanted them to be arranged), being careful not to sink the plants so deeply as to cover the grafts.
One question I had was whether the seeds saved from the fruit of these plants would then carry the characteristics of both the rootstock and the Cherokee Purple strain. (I don’t know much about grafting, so this may be a silly question.) The research, however, is new enough that she wasn’t able to give me an answer — they simply haven’t thought yet to consider that aspect. The seeds will produce Cherokee Purples again next year, but whether or not they will produce plants with increased hardiness remains to be seen.
Cherokee Purple trial patch, marked for different grafted rootstock varieties
In the meantime, we will watch this patch and see how things go. (Since it’s the lower part of the bed, I suspect we’ll see some problems with excess water, but I hope it won’t be too bad.) And when it comes time to harvest, we’ll be keeping special records on yields, resistance, and whatever else is notable.
I rounded out my work Tuesday with replacing other tomato seedlings that had succumbed to root rot, clearing out the old kale bed, harvesting garlic scapes for market, helping Dave lay the rest of the drip lines, and planting melons and winter squash. Since we planned to spend time Wednesday preparing for a farmers’ market, we wanted to push through the field work while we could this week.
Wednesday morning greeted us with low skies and a steady rainfall that had me soaked through shortly after we started harvesting produce for Dave’s Wednesday market. But the unofficial Post Office motto of “neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” applies to farmers as well, so we persevered and harvested kohlrabi, turnips, beets, radishes, kale, mustard greens, and snow peas for market.
Everything for sale is weighed and packaged with care
“There’s an art to preparing for market,” Dave asserted as we started the day’s work. From making clean cuts to harvest the produce to cleaning off unsightly leaves in the field, from washing produce thoroughly and cleaning off more problem spots to bundling produce together for sale, he demonstrated his techniques and explained his desire for the best-looking produce display.
Nope, not quite pretty enough for market
For example, turnips that looked perfectly good when pulled from the ground had to be reevaluated once cleaned — and these, sad to say, did not make the cut. (They did, however, make it into a bin of seconds for me to take home.)
Bundles of turnips, ready for market
By noon, we had prepped all the produce he intended to take to market, laying bundles of root vegetables carefully in plastic bins and tucking leafy greens into plastic bags (stems all down, bag bottoms snipped to allow drainage). And with that, my day’s work was done.
As we head further into farmers’ market season, I expect my weeks will follow more of this pattern — long days Monday and Tuesday, morning harvest Wednesday, and possibly another afternoon of harvesting later in the week. So it’s good to get some of the basics of that process down now. And I look forward to learning more about the art of farming.